Many shoppers in the Las Vegas Valley on Friday were already heeding new federal guidance advising people to wear face masks when venturing out in public, even before it was actually issued.
Spot checks of shopping centers in Henderson and Las Vegas, many of them conducted hours before President Donald Trump and the White House coronavirus task force formalized the recommendation, found that one-third to half of shoppers were wearing masks.
Dan Watson, 70, and his wife, Debbie, 71, were among many shoppers who had only started wearing their masks Friday for a grocery run to a Vons store in Henderson after hearing that the new guidelines were expected to be announced shortly.
Dan Watson said bought the masks in November when he had a cold and was grateful to have them on hand given the current shortage for hospital workers, let alone members of the public.
“They help keep you from touching your face,” Debbie noted.
Cosmin Malita, 30, of southwest Las Vegas, was likewise masked for his first grocery-buying excursion after self-isolating in his home for two weeks.
‘Everyone should. It won’t hurt’
“I just started wearing a mask today, just to be more safe,” he said, as he waited outside a nearby Trader Joe’s. “Everyone should. It won’t hurt.”
In announcing the recommendation Friday afternoon at a White House briefing, Trump said the administration is encouraging many Americans to wear face masks in public. He stressed that the recommendation is optional and indicated he does not intend to comply with it, saying, “I’m choosing not to do it.”
The new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people, especially in areas hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus, to use rudimentary coverings like T-shirts, bandannas and non-medical masks to cover their faces while outdoors.
The new guidance, announced at a time when states are bracing for critical protective equipment shortfalls, has raised concern among some experts that it could cause a sudden run on masks if Americans turn to private industry to meet the expected surge in demand.
Trump and other administration officials sought to minimize any burden by stressing the use of homemade coverings was perfectly acceptable. Federal officials also stressed that surgical masks and N95 respirators should be left for those on the front lines of fighting the spread of the infection.
Sheffield Abella, 50, of southwest Las Vegas is a fan of the homemade masks his wife has made, and has been wearing them for weeks before venturing out to get groceries.
“My wife makes so many I wear a different one every day,” he said. “It’s good because we can wash them, but you don’t want to be caught wearing the same mask twice!”
“Some people have been nonchalant (about wearing protection), but I’d rather be cautious,” he added. “My parents are old and my wife has asthma.”
While the elderly and people with other underlying health conditions are most at risk of serious complications from COVID-19, masks also seemed to be catching on among younger shoppers.
Kristin Villagomez, 24 and Carlos Mendoza, 23, were among those who put on masks for the first time Friday to shop at Sam’s Club at Arroyo Crossing in southwest Las Vegas.
The Spring Valley pair said they have been leaving home only occasionally for groceries. They advised that everyone should be wearing protection of some sort.
“Everyone needs to help everyone at this point,” Mendoza said.
‘Viruses and infections are no joke’
Kathleen Harris, 57, and her mother, Martha Sherifl, 83, both wore gloves and masks for their weekly shopping. Harris is a retired ICU nurse with COPD and asthma who said the new coronavirus can’t be taken seriously enough.
“I know how scary it is,” she said. “Viruses and infections are no joke.”
Not everyone was ready to shield their faces, though.
Michelle Merryman, 42 of Henderson, said she’s most concerned about her elderly neighbors, one of whom she’s taking on daily walks.
But she said her family is healthy and secluded, so she didn’t feel masks were necessary.
And Carl Heiserman, 72, a Sun City Anthem resident, said he’s trusting his government and his gloves to keep him safe.
“About the only time I’ll wear anything is the grocery store,” he said, slipping on a pair of black gloves outside Vons.
He said he’d wear a mask only if he was coming close to people, which he said he doesn’t do when he’s shopping.
Back at Trader Joe’s, where a long line of shoppers was waiting admittance while standing 6 feet apart, Lauren Serban, 30, said her anxiety was running high as she waited to do the shopping while her 68-year-old father remained in their Henderson house.
Serban said she was carrying hand sanitizer and leaving her shoes at the door. But she drew the line there.
“I’m not wearing masks even though I know I should, because they make me feel weird,” she said.